Nurturing the scientific ecosystem: new preprint

The debate about the future of the independent scientific career has become arid and sterile, focusing almost entirely on accessing tenure-track jobs in universities (often collectively referred to as the academic “pipeline”). An unstated assumption of much of the discussion is that “early career” scientists who wish to become independent must either adapt to this rigid pipeline or leave science (or move to yet another career pipeline) and that a permanent position in the academic hierarchy should be the ultimate goal.  It is also taken almost as axiom that all changes must be driven by senior leaders in a top-down manner within existing scientific institutions. This seems unlikely given that the status quo disproportionately benefits those in senior positions, as well as extremely slow, given the glacial pace of institutional change.

We need a vastly enlarged conception of the future of science. Myself and Ronin Institute colleagues, Anne Thessen and Arika Virapongse argue in our just-released Peer J Preprint, that all scientists (early-career or otherwise) already have the tools to both perform independent science and are beginning a process of deep cultural change in science.  This paper follows on from my 2017 presentation at CESTEMER that presented a series of concrete design patterns to build a new dynamic scientific ecosystem, drawing on peer-to-peer, open, co-operative, decentralized, and commons-based approaches to organizing the scientific enterprise. These tools and approaches are available now and need not wait for permission from senior leaders, nor institutional changes (although positive institutional changes would always be welcome). We further argue that we need to abandon the scarcity-based and “competition is always good” thinking that informs much of the discussion of science today and and embrace a more inclusive, co-operative and egalitarian future for science.


Here’s the abstract:

The institutions of science are in a state of flux. Declining public funding for basic science, the increasingly corporatized administration of universities, increasing “adjunctification” of the professoriate and poor academic career prospects for postdoctoral scientists indicate a significant mismatch between the reality of the market economy and expectations in higher education for science. Solutions to these issues typically revolve around the idea of fixing the career “pipeline”, envisioned being a pathway from higher-education training to a coveted permanent position, and then up a career ladder until retirement. In this paper, we propose and describe the term “ecosystem” as an appropriate way to conceptualize today’s scientific training and the professional landscape of the scientific enterprise. First, we highlight the issues around the concept of “fixing the pipeline”. Then, we articulate our ecosystem metaphor by describing a series of concrete design patterns that draw on peer-to-peer, decentralized, co-operative, and commons-based approaches to creating a new dynamic scientific enterprise.

Read the full pre-print on PeerJ Preprints